• Steven Marsh

Connecting With Others in the Unconditional Love of the Triune God–The Movement of Love: a Ref

God’s unconditional love flows from God to you and meets you in whatever the place is that you find yourself. Love matters and we can be grateful for that. Marci Auld Glass, a workshop leader for the “Covenant Conversations” event yesterday writes, “…it is our job, our vocation, to lift up praise while we live.”[1]Death was defeated at the resurrection. Death, the end of all life as we know it, the destroyer of all dreams, the breaker of all hopes, the crushing burden of all life, and the loss of all love was defeated.[2]

The movement of love is so important for life. Evelyn Bence relates the following:

Spending an evening at a shelter for homeless women was not my idea, but when a friend asked, I was perfectly willing to tag along. Although the winter was still young, the cold was harsh. I nearly ran from the comfort of our car to the warmth of the church annex that had, for years, opened its doors as a refuge from the night. The director, Christy, efficiently assigned tasks—to set the floor with foam mats and blankets as one would set a table, to lay out on a buffet table plastic forks, paper plates, and the donated leftovers that filled the refrigerator. When the women arrived, we would help serve the food. Christy assured me that most of the women, the “regulars,” had spent the day inside at one of several centers, but there were always the few who just appeared—seeming to have no history more concrete than their names. My three hours at the shelter were not filled with dramatic scenes. From a corner of the large sleeping area, I helped serve dinner to 30 women who ate their substantial but bland meal, sitting cross-legged on their sleeping mats. Except for two boisterously irrational women, they talked little. By nine o’clock, many were bedding down for the night. “Homeless.” As I did the dishes, still within sight of the women, the word took on a personal meaning. These women slept here, but every morning when they left, they had to carry their possessions with them. Suddenly I was overwhelmed with gratitude for my nightgowns, for my very own pillow, for my hand-picked dining room chairs. “Lord,” I silently prayed as I walked to Christy’s office to say good night, “Thank you. Thank you—that I’m not one of them.” Christy met me in the hallway and interrupted my pharisaical thoughts with her own gratitude for my help. I asked her about certain women who had caught my attention. Routy Rachel, Christy explained, had a Ph.D. in art history. Gradually her mind had slipped out of her own grasp. Ester, who had talked to herself all evening, was the mother of five children. She was a midwestern farmer’s wife—until her life crumbled around her. Christy didn’t know much about Carol, who had lain on her back for more than an hour, reading her King James Bible. Marla, who had seemed sullen, was a trained soprano who occasionally enjoyed serenading the rest of the group. Only after I walked back out into the night air did the women’s stories unsettle me. Their paths had too much in common with mine. In a sense, I was one of them: A mother’s daughter. Vulnerable. A sinner in need of grace. … Since then I have been more aware of the uprooted Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Latin American refugees who live in my neighborhood, who ride my bus. War, political change, economic collapse—conditions over which they had no control—destroyed their lifestyle and stole their ability to communicate easily and thus to work efficiently. My thoughts have frightened me. My comfortable world, my secure home, is not guaranteed. At the sight of the outstretched hand of a city beggar, I have always grown uncomfortable. Until recently, I have thought it was because of Jesus’ warning in Matthew 25:45: “Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these [the hungry, thirsty, unclothed, homeless], you did not do for me.” But since I spent an evening at the women’s shelter, I see that Matthew 25 is only the partial cause of my discomfort. I am uncomfortable because I see the beggar as myself—or my very own brother or mother or father. And I cannot think of a homeless or hungry woman in such personal terms without a reversal in the way I give my thanks. The difference between “Thank you that I’m not one of them” and “Thank you for the grace you have shown to me, and help me to mirror your grace to others” may, at first, seem slight. But the second is for me a wholly new mindset that makes me want to reach out, that reduces my discomfort around those who have less than I, and, surprisingly, that reduces my fear of a future that is unknown. Why? Because even though I know I have no insurance policy against war and famine or sickness, I know I have a God who does not forget his own. And for that I thank him also.[3]

Homelessness, hunger, hate, the “other” and exclusion do not need to be normative life experiences. Because of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead those things that hinder and harm the experience of God’s unconditional love have been defeated.[4]

The text from the Revelation to John is clear: worship is essential. What drives angels in heaven to worship? The Love God has for them and theirs for God. God’s love for us and ours for God is to be our motivation for worship as well. It is in worship that we most fully experience the movement of love. The Gospel of John is equally insightful in this regard. Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved him. Peter said yes. And Jesus said then serve. Give yourself away, Peter, for the sake of others. When we are preoccupied with “self” we lose our focus on the movement of God’s unconditional love. The Psalmist declares, “O Lord my God, I cried to you for help and you have healed me.”[5]Remembering times of deliverance leads to hope and faith in God for future deliverance. Being thankful for God’s love demonstrates that gratitude is to be our permanent way of being, even in the midst of hardship, difficulty and trouble.[6]

Whatever forms of despair, discouragement, and doubt you bring to church this day, a new way of living is available to you. The movement of God’s unconditional love meets you in your troubles, journeys with you to relief and eventually creates in you a perspective of gratitude. Randy Frazee in his book The Connecting Church 2.0 reminds us that loving God and others is the key to contentment when he writes, “biblical community is a way of life, not a program.”[7]God’s unconditional love has always been true, is true and will remain true. “Remember that life is precious and ephemeral, and love like there’s no tomorrow.”[8]Inclusion not exclusion is the way of God. You’re included. Let’s immolate that movement of God’s unconditional love.

[1]Marci Auld Glass in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery and Cynthia L. Rigby, editors, Connections, Year C, Volume 2 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2018), 206.

[2]Gleaned from James C. Goodloe’s sermon “Why Seek the Living Among the Dead?” preached on January 15, 2006.

[3]Evelyn Bence, “Two Kinds of Thanks,” Christianity Today(November 1999).

[4]Some ideas taken from A. Katherine Grieb and Michael Battle in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery and Cynthia L. Rigby, editors, Connections, Year C, Volume 2, 224-227.

[5]Psalm 30:2

[6]Some ideas gleaned from Marci Auld Glass in in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery and Cynthia L. Rigby, editors, Connections, Year C, Volume 2, 222.

[7]Randy Frazee, The Connecting Church 2.0(Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2013), 164.

[8]Eric Utne in “Community is the Answer,” Utne Reader(Winter 2018), 80.

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